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Advanced Math Is a Challenge. What's Wrong With That?

(By Julie Zhu)
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dear Extra Credit Readers:

Jerry W. Miller's suggestion ["In the Real World, Advanced Math Doesn't Always Add Up," Oct. 30] that schools might be requiring too much math inspired so many letters that I needed several extra fingers and toes to count them:

Dear Extra Credit:

I think that one reason we don't see how we use math, especially algebra, in our daily lives is that we use it so much and so automatically that we don't realize it, sort of like breathing. I have to admit that I am a math geek, although I did not excel in math in school. My professional life, though, has been spent mostly as a researcher, and for a while I taught college statistics.

There is a lack of understanding of how math, and even arithmetic, factors in our daily life. I could give many examples of people's inability to calculate simple formulas for common things, such as how to increase a recipe that serves four to one that serves six.

Or percents: I am constantly amazed at the lack of familiarity with something as necessary as percents. Once, I took a class that aimed to teach how to shop for a low-fat diet. The rule was that no more than 30 percent of one's daily calories should come from fat. A student, over 40, asked what she could eat for supper if her lunch calories were 25 percent fat, and breakfast had 25 percent calories from fat. She said, "I'm already up to 50 percent, and I have a whole meal to go!"

Martha Gilbert


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